Rebecca Payne, Reference/Instruction Librarian, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Sheila Stoeckel, Associate Academic Librarian, Campus Library & Information Literacy Instruction Office, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Slides and handouts available at LOEX 2008
This was a session that attracted me from the get-go, especially at a time when I was considering applying for our Head of Instruction and Reference position. But just because I am not currently going through that hiring process doesn’t mean that I cannot positively influence the activities that go on between teaching librarians at Milne Library.
The premise of this LOEX session was to introduce a collaborative pilot project between instruction librarians at UW Madison. With so many different libraries on campus, librarians who do not immediately work with one another- due to geographical distance and/or priorities of the different libraries – were interested in working more collectively while enhancing their performance in the classroom. Prior instruction-related activities included monthly forums across the different libraries, an annual retreat, and an annual banquet. Due to a glaring absence of formal one-on-one instructor assessment, the partnership pilot became a successful means of gaining peer feedback in an unobtrusive and non-threatening way. The presenters made it clear that the results of any of the formed partnerships have not been used at a higher level (i.e., for term renewal, continuing appointment, or promotion). That was never the goal.
The program itself consists of librarian volunteers who share the goal of enhanced performance in the classroom, whether that be in the form of lesson planning, pacing of a library session, creation of hands-on activities including assessment tools, public speaking, or encouragement of student discussion. The program is flexible, self-directed (any one pair of teaching librarians can design a unique partnership that work specifically for them), supportive, self-reflective, and a system of equals (no “mentoring” is involved). Pairs are formed based on common interests or by pure motivation of wanting to get to know other librarians on campus. Based on the desired outcomes of each pair, activities can include self-reflection of the teaching process, peer observation and discussion. Specific observation methods to be used include scripting, verbatim logs, and a checklist of behaviors (created collaboratively by the pair or by the instructor to be observed – encompassing such things as the number of “um’s” spoken, addressing students’ questions directly, providing eye contact, etc.). Throughout the pilot project, participants would flip flop from the role of instructor and the role of facilitator (who would encourage reflection, observe his/her partner’s teaching, and provide constructive feedback). The number of times partners met was determined by their schedules and workload. If in-person meetings could not established, partners were free to call, e-mail, text, etc. but the preferred method of “meeting,” as stated by participants, is definitely face-to-face. Audience members were shown two versions of a videotaped “meeting” and were asked what they thought “worked” and what didn’t work.
* Deciding on behaviors to observe (or other goals laid out by the instructor) before the instruction takes place
* A planned meeting, soon after the instruction has taken place, where each partner has devoted time to talk and listen
* Equal partners sitting down and sharing an objective and productive conversation
* The observer begins conversation by asking the instructor how he/she thought the library session went
* Focus only on the aspects that the instructor has asked the observer to witness and provide feedback on
* Sharing student comments made in the classroom that the instructor would never hear while in the midst of teaching (student praise, student “a-ha” moments, student confusion, etc.)
* Combine positive comments with aspects that could be improved upon
* Quantifiable evidence as marked down on behavior worksheet (e.g. a checkmark for every time “um” was uttered)
* Support constructive criticism or praise with observed evidence
What doesn’t work:
* Having one person standing while the other sits – creates a model of hierarchy
* Coming across as the expert rather than an equal – the project was not intended to be a mentorship no matter what the difference in age or level of experience shared between two participants in a pair
* Not allowing for shared conversation
* Not addressing the specific requests of the instructor to be observed
* Criticism (not necessarily constructive) provided without any observable evidence to back it up
Benefits to Librarian Instructional Partnerships:
* Written reports by instructor and observer allows for accountability, self-reflection, and a sharing & learning tool for other librarians on campus
* Only 10 hours of a librarian’s time was spent during the semester. This included the initial orientation to the pilot project and meetings between partners. Classroom time was not factored in since the instructor would be teaching the class in question regardless of the assessment project.
* Participants stated that the program was “fun,” allowed for time and discussion focused on teaching, provided each librarian with specific and directed feedback, built rapport among colleagues, and encouraged an exchange of ideas and teaching techniques
* Allowed librarians to set goals for themselves and targets upon which they could improve
* The project can extend itself to other departments in the library – i.e., Reference, Circulation, Student Assistants
* The positive outcomes of the program is spreading across campus (KDH – perhaps academic depts can use this approach, but even more pertinent to the instruction program at Milne Library, maybe librarians and their faculty partners can work out a similar approach)
Drawbacks (and advice) to Librarian Instructional Partnerships:
* Coordination of schedules was sometimes difficult, mainly due to unavoidable circumstances
* Potential for those who would most benefit from the constructive criticism to not participate
* Pairs work better because more time and attention can be focused in a one-to-one partnership
* Videotaping of instruction sessions (see Argentieri, Davies, Farrell, Liles) can help enhance the program, if participants are receptive to the idea (KDH – videotaping along with web 2.0 could allow such a program to expand to campus-to-campus library partnerships)